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Team Report - ATLANTA FALCONS

7 hours agoThe SportsXchange



INSIDE SLANT


Given all of the injuries and personnel chaos, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is turning in a solid season.

"Matt is still one of the top tier quarterbacks in the NFL," Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He's had some games that were better than others. There are not too many guys that we'd be trading him for, in my opinion."

Ryan has been without his main rushing threat for parts of the season, both of his Pro Bowl wide receivers, his promising young fullback and has been asked to perform behind a shaky makeshift offensive line.

"First off, nobody has higher expectations of himself than Matt," Koetter said. "Matt sets the bar very high for himself. As a coaching staff we a put a lot on Matt. We have very high expectations of him. More times than not, he lives up to our expectations and exceeds them."

Ryan has completed 325 of 490 passes for 3,471 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has a passer rating of 89.6. Those numbers aren't likely going to earn him his third Pro Bowl berth, but giving the upheaval surrounded the roster and the team, they are pretty remarkable.

"There were a couple of games where we turned it over more than we should," Koetter said. "There were no excuses for anything. The injury thing is not an excuse."

Ryan has also taken the type of beating that Archie Manning used to take during his days with the New Orleans Saints, as he has been running for his life behind a poorly revamped offensive line.

The Buffalo Bills clobbered Ryan last Sunday, dragged him around and pulled on his jersey. They even knocked his linemen back into him. When the dust settled in that game, Ryan was sacked six times and hit nine times, but he kept getting back up.

"He was under some pressure," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We had a couple of no hitters, which are what we call basically unblocked guys."

Ryan proved that if he can stay upright long enough, he can find his receivers and pull out a victory. That could be a valuable trait as the Falcons (3-9) are set to face the Green Bay Packers (5-6-1) this Sunday.

"You just have to keep going," said Ryan, who has been sacked 30 times this season and hit 78 times. "That's just one of those things. You just have to keep battling. (Buffalo has) one of the best front sevens in the league. Obviously they lead the league in sacks ... They're a talented bunch."

The line had its moments, but gave up three sacks in the first half and three in the second against Buffalo. They also gave up five sacks in the previous game against New Orleans.

"I thought our guys kept battling, regardless of what happened with the sacks or whatever," Ryan said. "We just kept going."

Ryan, like a prize fighter, shook off those sacks to help keep the Saints game close and was able to help pull out the Buffalo game in overtime. The Falcons had to send in an extra lineman to help when they used backup tackle Ryan Schraeder as a tight end and extra blocker.

Despite the relentless pressure in the Bills game, Ryan was able to somehow mount scoring drives of 81, 71, 36, 55 and 65 and 30 yards.

SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 13-12. Falcons coach Mike Smith is 2-1 against the Packers during the regular season. The Falcons won the last meeting in Green Bay, 27-24, as rookie Matt Ryan outdueled an up-and-coming Aaron Rodgers, who was in his first season taking over for Brett Favre. The franchises have had two memorable playoff meetings. The Falcons became the first team to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field with a 27-7 Michael Vick-led victory in 2002. In 2010, the Falcons won the regular-season meeting but were trounced as the NFC's No. 1 seed by the Packers, 48-21, on their way to the Super Bowl title.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Since breaking loose for 88 yards on two carries and a touchdown against Tampa Bay, the Falcons have been trying to get more carries for running back Antone Smith.

Steven Jackson is the clear No. 1 and nobody seems want to take his carries away. It appears the targets are backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.

Jackson has 97 carries for 339 yards for a 3.5-yard average per carry and three touchdowns; Rodgers has 83 carries for 292 yards (3.5) and two touchdowns; Snelling has 36 carries for 132 yards (3.7) and one touchdown; Smith has 5 carries for 145 yards (29) and two touchdowns; Josh Vaughan, the fifth-stringer on the depth chart, has one carry for 1 yard and no touchdowns.

"He's definitely making the most of his touches," Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said of Smith. "Ever since the (Tampa Bay game), we've tried to have a couple of packages every week (for) Antone. He was in on passes. He was in on some runs. He was in on some blocking plays and he's definitely earned that and we will continue that."

--Falcons running back Steven Jackson helped the Falcons double their rushing average Sunday against Buffalo. The Falcons had averaged 74.7 yards per game before gaining 151 yards against the Bills.

Jackson gained 84 yards on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns.

"Steven is the type of runner when he gets multiple chances, he's going to continue to run hard for four quarters," Koetter said. "He was running hard at the end of that game the other night. That's what type of back he is."

Jackson suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 and has been rounding into form since his return to action against Arizona on Oct. 27.

"It's just been extremely unfortunate the combination of his injury in Week 2 and then us being out of some games early for one reason or another, we just haven't been able to consistently run the ball as often as we need to," Koetter said. "These last couple of weeks, we've been running it better."

--The Falcons' shaky run defense will face another talented running back in Green Bay's Eddie Lacy.

On Thanksgiving, the Lions held the former Alabama star to 16 yards on 10 carries, but Atlanta has struggled to contain runners this season.

The Bills rushed for 195 yards on 31 carries against the Falcons, who have allowed their last nine opponents to run for 100 or more yards. During the five-game losing streak, opponents rushed for an average of 166.4 yards per game against the Falcons.

Lacy's power running style will put pressure on the Falcons to tackle better and eliminate their missed run fits.

"The way we've been playing run last couple weeks it's a big concern," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Green Bay had made a concerted effort to run the football this season. We will see a big, strong running back this week who we have to put multiple pads on. We have to tackle much better than we did Sunday."

New England (132), the New York Jets (118), Tampa Bay (111), Arizona (201 yards), Carolina (131), Seattle (211), Tampa Bay (186), New Orleans (103) and Buffalo (195) have all gained more than 100 rushing yards against Atlanta. The Falcons have not held a team under 100 yards since the third game of the season, when they limited Miami to 90 yards rushing on 15 carries.

During that stretch, Arizona's Andre Ellington has rushed for 154 yards on 15 carries, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch rushed for 154 yards on 24 carries, Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey ran for 163 yards on 30 carries and Buffalo's C.J. Spiller had 149 yards on 15 carries.

Lacy has rushed for 822 yards on 207 carries (4.0 per carry) and six rushing touchdowns. He's backed up by James Starks (5.6 per carry)

A Georgia state agency recently approved using public money to purchase two additional pieces of land for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board signed off on deals to buy the small parcels from private landowners for a combined $1.44 million. That brings to almost $9 million the amount of state money the GWCCA has agreed to pay for property on the stadium site just south of the Georgia Dome.

Agreements have been reached to buy all of the private property needed for the stadium, except for one parcel that the state has begun the process of acquiring through use of eminent domain.

In September, after lengthy negotiations, deals were reached to purchase the major properties needed for the stadium: Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist churches. The Falcons agreed to pay $19.5 million for Friendship's property, while the Falcons and the GWCCA agreed to pay a combined $14.5 million for Mount Vernon's (including $6.2 million from the GWCCA).

The deals with the churches meant five other parcels - totaling just more than two acres and currently used mainly for event parking and billboards - needed to be acquired. The GWCCA now has agreements to purchase four of those five parcels - two approved last month for a combined $1.29 million and the two approved Tuesday subject to authorization from the State Properties Commission.

BY THE NUMBERS: 42 -- Total points scored by the Falcons in the third quarter this season - an average of 3.5 per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He jumps off the film at you with his relentless motor. He never quits. He's got multiple pass rush moves. Most guys have just one or two, but this guy has got a lot of equipment." -- Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews III.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Falcons coach Mike Smith said rookie cornerback Robert Alford replaced Asante Samuel in the lineup Sunday after Samuel left the game with an injury. No injury was announced during the game.

Smith said Alford stayed on the field as the team continued its efforts to give young players more snaps. Alford played 36 defensive snaps to Samuel's 29.

According to Pro Football Focus, Alford was targeted six times and gave up one reception, a 15-yard catch to Buffalo wide receiver Steve Johnson.

"I felt like they were trying to target Robert on a number of passes, a number of deep balls, and he handled it extremely well," Smith said.

Rookie Ryan Schraeder got his most extensive time at right tackle in addition to filling his usual role as tight end in the team's "jumbo" package for 12 snaps against Buffalo. Schraeder rotated with Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle and played 15 snaps.

INJURY IMPACT

--TE Tony Gonzalez (toe) was limited in practice but is expected to play against the Packers.

--G Peter Konz (ankle) was limited in practice but is expected to play against the Packers.

--S Zeke Motta (hand) was limited in practice but is expected to play against the Packers.

--LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) was limited in practice but is expected to play against the Packers.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Roddy White, who has been battling a high ankle sprain and a hamstring injury, posted his best game of the year with 10 catches for 143 yards (14.3 per catch) against Buffalo. It was White's 36th career 100-yard game, extending his own franchise record. His 143-yard performance was tied for the eighth-highest yardage output of his career.

--CB Desmond Trufant finished the game with one tackle and one pass defensed. According to Stats LLC., Trufant's 14 passes defensed in 2013 are the most by a Falcons rookie in a single season, surpassing Darnell Walker, who broke up 13 passes in 1993.

--QB Matt Ryan engineered a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 23rd time in his career against Buffalo (12/1). He threw for 311 yards with one touchdown in the win.

--RB Jacquizz Rodgers has totaled 538 yards on 120 touches including four touchdowns.

--RB Steven Jackson rushed for 84 yards on 23 carries against the Saints, both were season highs. Jackson has scored 59 career rushing touchdowns, tying RB Frank Gore (59) for the fifth-most among active players. His 68 total touchdowns are 11th among active players.

--PK Matt Byrant has hit 16 game-winning field goals in his career, including seven as a member of the Falcons. His 36-yard game-winner vs. Buffalo was the shortest game-winning kick of his Falcons career.

GAME PLAN: The Falcons should have some running opportunities against the Packers, who have given up more than 170 yards rushing in four of their past five games.

Chicago (171), Philadelphia (204), Minnesota (232) and Detroit (241) all enjoyed strong days running against the Packers. Green Bay held the New York Giants to 78 yards rushing in Week 11.

The Packers have given up some fine individual performances over that five-game stretch to Chicago's Matt Forte (125 yards), Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (155), Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (146) and Detroit's Reggie Bush (117).

Also, in the Minnesota game Peterson's backup, Toby Gerhart, ran for 91 yards, and in the Detroit game, Bush's backup, Joique Bell, ran for 94 yards.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Falcons WR Roddy White, who's coming off his biggest game of the season, vs. Packers CB Sam Shields, who matched up against Detroit's Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving -- White, who has battled through a high-right ankle sprain and a left hamstring injury, had 10 catches for 143 yards last week against Buffalo. He finally appeared healthy after struggling to get open since returning from the hamstring injury. Shields competed against Johnson. He battled him deep while digging out a jump ball in the end zone before making a spectacular end-zone interception, his only one of the season.

--Falcons C Joe Hawley, who's making his third start this season, vs. Packers NT B.J. Raji -- Hawley has taken over for Peter Konz, who started nine games, and has stabilized the position. Raji is the type of behemoth who could give the smallish Hawley fits inside. Hawley will have to scrap and get some help from guards Justin Blalock and Konz. Raji is not having one of his better seasons, but is still an interior force.

--Falcons RB Steven Jackson, who's coming off his most productive game of the season, vs. Packers SS Morgan Burnett, who often drops down in box to support the run defense -- Jackson is rounding into form after his hamstring injury and showed that he can still wear down a defense. The Falcons didn't fall behind and were able to stay with the running game against Buffalo. Burnett is not coming off of one of his better games as he had four of the Packers' 14 missed tackles against Detroit. The ball-hawk did come up with two fumble recoveries.

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Smith has 5 carries for 145 yards (29) and two touchdowns; Josh Vaughan, the fifth-stringer on the depth chart, has one carry for 1 yard and no touchdowns.

"He's definitely making the most of his touches," Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said of Smith.

Yeah, I guess he is........

Incredibly small sample, but I don't think its terribly likely that Antone Smith just happens to carry the ball 5 times and all 5 times the line happens to block well. There's something there.

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